Richard Cohen
Richard Cohen
Opinion Writer

Anthony Weiner, victim of a digital mob

A date has been set — and the candidates chosen — for an election to fill the seat of the disgraced Anthony Weiner. To my disappointment, none of the candidates is Weiner himself, who is surely the last bullying victim of the academic year. His resignation was demanded by Nancy Pelosi, who heroically put party over principle and, without so much as determining whether a law had been broken, a body found or even the ethical canons of Congress violated, ordered Weiner to be gone. The president backed her, saying that if he were Weiner, he would resign. Unmentioned was that if Obama were Weiner, we’d have a budget agreement.

Weiner was supposedly banished on pragmatic grounds. He was a distraction from work not being done, deals not being made, a budget deficit turned over to the Good Lord for managing and a war-non-war in Libya that the House of Representatives will fund but not support — or something like that.

Richard Cohen

Cohen writes about politics in a weekly column and on the PostPartisan blog.

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The 2012 presidential race gets old-school.

The 2012 presidential race gets old-school.

Weiner went — and in an appropriate bow to the weird, did so in a news conference. Much of the press piled on. It hardly mattered, it seemed, that Weiner intended his pictures, as lewd and strange as they might be, for specific recipients. Most of the women solicited his attention and the one who appeared on the “Today” show (along with two lawyers) said she had reciprocated in kind. Traci Nobles, one of six known Weiner Twitterettes, told a clearly astonished Ann Curry that she was “flattered” by Weiner’s attention and that she had, in obvious homage to Edith Piaf, no regrets (“Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien”). So much for a parade of victims.

In fact, there are victims. One is due process, which envisions a procedure other than a lynch mob for Congress to rid itself of a miscreant. Another is common decency, which means you stand up for someone who’s done no legal wrong. And you have to ask yourself what sort of precedent is being set. What sort of world is it where a digital Peeping Tom such as Andrew Breitbart gets hold of a picture meant for others and displays it to the world — not to reveal a crime but merely to titillate and mortify? For this, Breitbart even took over a Weiner news conference, acting as if he had done a public service and deserved recognition — maybe a Pulitzer Prize. Rupert Murdoch can make the presentation.

Anthony Weiner and Bill Clinton have much in common. Both had their private lives invaded. Both men were clamped in the stocks of mortification, Clinton by his conservative political enemies and that latter-day Javert, Kenneth Starr, and Weiner by Breitbart and other conservative stalkers. In both cases, the persecution was supposedly justified because both men had lied. But they had not lied to cover up a crime, but to cover up an embarrassment. There is a difference, and while Clinton crossed a line — he lied to a grand jury — Weiner did no such thing. He lied to save face. Here and there in Congress might be someone who’s done something similar.

We live in a world where there is precious little privacy. Sony has been hacked; so has Citibank and even the CIA. Every click of the keyboard commoditizes you — leaving info for someone to sell or steal. Over in England, Murdoch’s minions hacked the voice-mail of a 13-year-old abducted girl (later found murdered), finally rousing a cowardly political establishment to wails of hollow protest and compelling Murdoch to close his News of the World: Headless Newspaper in Spineless Nation. Here, there or anywhere, no one is safe.

You would think that just one member of Congress would suggest that Weiner’s privacy was worth protecting, even if his actions were not and the man himself a creep. You would think there’d be a chorus denouncing the parasites in the media whose sustenance is the misery of others and insisting that not until a law is broken should citizens be deprived of representation. After all, polls taken at the time suggested Weiner’s constituents still supported him, somehow distinguishing between his private life and his public service. More than a tree grows in Brooklyn. Common sense does, too.

Whole weeks — eons in the age of Twitter — have gone by since Weiner resigned, so that we now have some perspective. We may ask, “What was that all about?” It was about many things, not the least of them being what Clarence Thomas once appropriately called “a high-tech lynching.” The rope surely will be used again.

cohenr@washpost.com

 
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